Women's History Month

While many recognise 8 March as International Women’s Day, the month of March is also celebrated as Women’s History Month. Across the globe there is a burgeoning increase in social, digital and literary platforms being used to raise awareness of the journey towards achieving gender parity. The first Women’s History Month was celebrated in 1911 and has since gone on to inspire swathes of individuals, organisations and institutions. Every year there is a collective upsurge across various professional industries to highlight the achievements and talents of the women who work within them. Architecture is one such profession, and events and initiatives arising from Women's History Month are allowing the industry to reflect on its own gender equality, promote strong female role models and consider what the future may hold for women in the industry. 

To mark Women’s History Month, and to celebrate the women of WilkinsonEyre, we asked a cross section of female staff at the practice to share their insights into the architectural profession, where they draw their inspirations and what advice they might give to young women starting their architectural career. 

What was your first job as a Modelmaker?

My first job in 2004, was working as a Commercial Replicator for the Natural History Museum.  It focused on all aspects of sculpting, moulding and casting replicas of fossils for exhibition, exchange, study or raising revenue.  The replicas ranged in size from small scale research casts to fully mounted life size skeletons for customers and institutions worldwide.

 

What made you choose to work in architecture?

During my BA (Hons) Modelmaking Degree I gained experience across the design and creative industries, including other architectural practices. In 2005 I joined WilkinsonEyre in their in-house modelshop. 

I chose to work in architecture because I enjoy aiding the design development process, communicating narratives to clients, and problem solving through making physical models.  It has also given me the opportunity to build upon my skill base in cutting edge technologies including CAD, CNC machining, 3D printing, acid etching and laser cutting, that complements the traditional techniques learned in the machine shop. 

In 2009, this knowledge and experience gave me the opportunity to become a Freeman of the City of London as a member of the Livery, Worshipful Company of Scientific Instrument Makers.

 

What are you currently working on?

I am currently working on a model of our scheme for the Dyson Institute of Engineering and Technology, as part of this year’s Royal Academy submission.  This exhibition gives us a unique opportunity to create a piece of art with no constraints.  It allows us to explore and test new materials and processes, and as a model maker I thoroughly enjoy being part of this process.

What has been your biggest achievement so far in your career?

As a team, […] how we have refined our style of making, by pushing the boundaries of materials and processes such as the introduction of UV light curing adhesives. 

Our 1:250 scale model of One Barangaroo presented its own challenges with its complex curvature and twisting form of the exterior cladding. Having machined all the tooling and vacuum formed the facades in-house, we developed new methods of scoring the pattern on the 3D form using our 2D laser cutter.  We also added various layers of opacity to the facades, to create a triangulated diagrid where the curvature was greatest, and rectangular patterns for the main façade.  To the inside of the skins we also applied a two-way mirror film.

What do you love about working in architecture? 

There is some poetry to the anonymity of architecture. The tremendous amount of work and passion delivered into the creation of a built environment generally for the rest of the world passes by unnoticed, as if the meticulous detailing architects involve in their designs is suddenly camouflaged within a bigger picture. And for me, it’s the wonderful feeling of completion and achievement architects receive just hoping, thinking, although never for sure knowing, that someone out there has recognised our intents and appreciates every single element of the design… even if we never hear about it ourselves.

 

What made you choose to work in architecture?

Oh, all the cash..   😉

 

What / who inspires you?

I go absolutely mad when I draw. It brings me to a certain level of trance where shape and form dominates the canvas and accelerates the imagination. Starting every project with a sketch I take time to give a meaning to every line I put onto paper. I need to feel the potential on an emotional level before I can dive into the project. When I see work by Lebbeus Woods it inspires me to push my limits and consider the philosophical possibilities of the future. 

What is the biggest change you would like to see in the architectural profession?

The freedom to create. As students we are being taught that the concept can more than often be a derivative of a dream, my own fool’s paradise. All you have to do is to sell it. This year, I’ve started to see the constraints the real world offers the architects, how it fabricates certain paths for the projects, sometimes forcing to neglect initial designs and ideas. So today, unfortunately, the more I learn about architecture, the less I think I know. 

What / who inspires you?

Different women in history and the present day have given me inspiration at various stages in my life. The three inspiring female architects I would choose in particular are: Lin Huiyin, Lina Bo Bardi and Cristina Diaz Moreno.

Lin Huiyin, the first female architect in modern China and a writer who received her education in China, the UK and the US. She broke through the limitations of being a woman in China in the early 1900s: lived and worked using the essence of what she had learnt from both east and west and left the nation with an awareness of conservation and profound sensitive literature.

Lina Bo Bardi: for her social and environmental approach to architecture and the construction of a better life.

Cristina Diaz Moreno: I was fortunate to study with Cristina in my final year at the AA, she is a phenomenal fearless human being who not only taught us architecture but also to live with savoir vivre.


Pei is currently working on:

St George's Quarter Development, London South Bank University. The development will transform the north-western corner of the main Southwark campus, providing learning resource centres, new study spaces, lecture theatres and a variety of teaching spaces. 

What advice would you give to young women pursuing a career in architecture

Be fearles and never underestimate our strength in being a woman.

What was your first job in architecture? 

After my undergraduate degree, I was working as a Part I Architectural Assistant. I worked on two high end residential projects in London. I realised the fundamental importance of a cohesive team that not only works well together but nurtures and supports each other.

What made you choose architecture? 

I admire the way in which architecture absorbs and elevates so many elements of everyday life. I enjoy the puzzle-like nature of every brief, each reconfiguration taking you one step closer to the satisfying moment when the design falls into place. There is no ‘right’ answer. Architecture celebrates and thrives from diversity.

What advice would you give to young women pursuing a career in architecture?

Talent and hard work are crucial but, for me, the undervalued virtues are resilience and confidence in yourself. Architecture can be a tough field for anyone, but in a profession where the gender balance is far from equal, the prospect of pursuing a career in architecture as a woman can be daunting. Much like the iterative and sometimes exhaustive design process, you need the resilience to believe that overcoming each obstacle makes you better.

Priscilla is currently working on:

21 Moorfields, a major new development located directly above an existing London Underground station and a future Crossrail ticket hall. Once completed it will become the Deutsche Bank London Headqarters.